Astros cheating scandal timeline, from the first sign-stealing allegations to a controversial punishment

As much as they would like it to disappear, the Astros have not escaped the cheating scandal that struck earlier this year. It will likely return to greater prominence in national baseball conversation once regular-season games begin Thursday.

An MLB investigation revealed that Houston engaged in systematic electronic sign-stealing through trash can banging communication and other means in 2017 and 2018, and reporting suggested that methods were first plotted in 2016.

Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow lost their jobs as a result of the findings, as did since-departed coaches Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran with their new organizations, but active players were not punished.

MORE: Red Sox scandal | Yankees allegations

Here’s a timeline of key events in the sign-stealing controversy that undermined the integrity of Houston’s 2017 championship:

September 2016: Sign-stealing scheme outlined in presentation for Jeff Luhnow

As reported this year by The Wall Street Journal, operation “Codebreaker” was presented to Luhnow by intern Derek Vigoa, who would eventually be promoted to director of team operations. The Powerpoint set forth the premise of a systematic sign-stealing scheme in which the Astros would illegally use cameras to get live intel into what pitch was on the way and pass that information to hitters in real time. The possible advantage there, of course, was astronomical. 

Luhnow also reportedly received two emails about the practice once it got underway. He said he never read them all the way through.

April 2017: Astros implement ways to communicate stolen signs

By the start of the 2017 campaign, MLB’s report says, the Astros had fully committed to stealing signs electronically. At first, this happened by relaying information to runners on second base, who then signaled incoming pitch types to batters. Veteran Carlos Beltran and bench coach Alex Cora were primary on-the-ground figures in executing the plan, though most players became involved in some capacity or at the very least were well aware of what was happening.

June 2017: Trash can banging becomes primary method of communication

As the 2017 season progressed, the Astros refined their methods to increase effectiveness. Around June, MLB’s report says, they figured out they could put a monitor near the entrance of their dugout and bang a trash can when an off-speed pitch was coming. 

Internet sleuths have since gone back to game-by-game video and found the banging was indeed extremely prevalent.

Houston, by the way, held a 54-27 record at the end of June — 8 1/2 games better than any other AL team.

September 2017: Danny Farquhar notices trash can banging while on mound

Danny Farquhar, then a reliever for the White Sox, provided an on-the-record account to The Athletic that helped inform the publication’s 2019 report first exposing Houston’s cheating. Farquhar said he noticed a weird sound coming from the Astros dugout whenever he was about to throw an off-speed pitch, leading him to signal he knew something was up.

“There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the bat rack every time a change-up signal got put down,” Farquhar said. “After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good change-ups and they were getting fouled off. After the third bang, I stepped off.”

October 2017: Astros win World Series

MLB’s report states that the Astros used their nefarious cheating methods throughout the playoffs. They beat the Dodgers in the World Series with the help of 15 home runs in seven games.

December 2017: Mike Fiers granted free agency, signs with Tigers

The Astros let right-hander Mike Fiers — the eventual whistleblower of their scheme — leave via free agency following the 2017 season. A minor move at the time, it set in motion their eventual downfall. After all, there’s no guarantee Fiers would have spoken up had he never moved on from Houston.

August 2018: Mike Fiers traded from Tigers to A’s

Fiers joined Houston’s primary AL West rival in the heat of a pennant race. The A’s threatened the Astros for the division lead briefly in late August but could not keep up through September, settling for a wild-card bid.

Fiers re-signed with Oakland following the campaign and remains with the organization.

September 2018: A’s complain about Astros to MLB

Oakland filed an official complaint to MLB about its suspicions Houston was illegally stealing signs.

From a Yahoo report a month later:

“During a late-August game against Oakland, A’s players noticed Astros players clapping in the dugout before pitches and believed they were relaying stolen signs to pitchers in the batter’s box.”

October 2018: Indians, Red Sox share concerns about Astros

By October 2018, paranoia about what the Astros (and several other teams) were doing had become the subject of public complaints and accusations from organizations. Cleveland warned Boston of attempts to steal signs after losing to Houston in the ALDS — a development reported by Yahoo at the time.

A man associated with the Astros named Kyle McLaughlin was caught taking photos of the Indians dugout with his phone in Game 3 of the ALDS and Game 1 of the ALCS.

Also in Yahoo’s report was the first mention of rivals catching on to Houston’s trash can banging scheme as a specific method of cheating.

October 2019: AJ Hinch mocks Yankees over cheating charge

The Astros reached their third straight ALCS this past season, meeting the Yankees in a series that went six games.

Early in the series, New York accused the Astros of whistling from their dugout to convey signs to hitters. Hinch mocked the idea Houston would cheat.

“We talked about this the other day,” Hinch told reporters. “And in reality it’s a joke. But Major League Baseball does a lot to ensure the fairness of the game. There’s people everywhere. If you go through the dugouts and the clubhouses and the hallways, there’s like so many people around that are (responsible for security).

“And then when I get contacted about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh because it’s ridiculous. And had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training. It apparently works, even when it doesn’t happen.”

October 2019: Jose Altuve hits walk-off ALCS home run, keeps shirt on

Jose Altuve finished off a dramatic at-bat against Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman with a walk-off Game 6 blast to send Houston to the World Series. Just before Altuve reached his teammates at home plate to celebrate, he told teammates they shouldn’t remove his jersey. While MLB did not find wrongdoing in that plate appearance, rival fans and players have used the moment to accuse Altuve of concealing a buzzer underneath his shirt. There has not been insider evidence to back the claim.

November 2019: The Athletic reports on Astros sign-stealing allegations

The Athletic published its detailed report on Houston’s history of cheating with on-the-record quotes from Fiers, who spent 2 1/2 seasons with the club, as well as former members of the organization.

November 2019: MLB launches investigation into Astros

In response to The Athletic’s report, MLB said it would launch a probe into the matter.

It should be noted MLB did not announce a comprehensive investigation of this scale after the A’s, Indians and Red Sox complained in 2018.

January 2020: MLB releases findings on Astros, hands out punishments

Commissioner Rob Manfred released the results of MLB’s investigation into Houston’s conduct from 2017 through 2019, finding the team used illegal sign-stealing methods through the 2018 campaign.

The league handed out the following punishments:

Crucially, the league publicly pinned the scandal mostly on players (and Cora) and said it could not definitively say Houston’s front office acted in bad faith.

January 2020: Astros fire Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch

The Astros dismissed their manager and GM immediately following the report.

“Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it,” Crane said.

February 2020: WSJ report outlines front office knowledge of scheme

The Wall Street Journal’s report on operation “Codebreaker” signaled that Luhnow knew about the scheme as early as late-2016, a significant allegation considering MLB’s assertion that the Astros’ cheating was player-driven.

February/March 2020: MLB players roast Astros

A wave of harsh comments about the Astros arrived when baseball players began reporting to camp this year.

Here’s a sample of what people around the league had to say:

Mike Trout: “It’s sad for baseball. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing.”

Cody Bellinger: “I mean, these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is (Jose) Altuve stole an MVP from (Aaron) Judge in ’17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”

Sean Manaea: “It’s a very, very unfair advantage. It’s like giving your brother the junk controller with the button that doesn’t work and then just whooping his butt all the time.”

Nick Markakis: “To see something like that, it’s damaging to baseball. It’s anger. I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating.”

Trevor Bauer: “You guys think you are better than everyone and you don’t have to abide by the rules? F— you. You know? That’s how I feel about their whole operation.”

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